Location: The Middle East
Population: 4.5 million
Capital: Kuwait City
Geography: A tiny nation on the Persian Gulf
Signature flavours: Rice, fish, saffron, sesame, citrus, cardamom, lamb, chicken
Sometimes it’s weeks or even months between assignments, as we juggle life and work, source hard-to-find ingredients, or just put the blog on the back-burner for a while and wait for inspiration to strike again. This time, however, Eric did his assignment less than a week after I finished up Benin. Winter has come to our tiny town in the form of a meter of snow, and with the cold weather, our bed and breakfast bookings have dried up for the season. We find ourselves with plenty of down time with which to plan for the next big feast.
Eric was surprised to find a wealth of Kuwaiti recipes, despite the country’s diminutive size. He whipped together a menu in just over an hour.
Mutabbaq Samak: Grilled fish (typically pomfret, though as it’s unavailable in our area, Eric used sea bass) rubbed with a blend of ten spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and others), served over rice prepared with dried limes, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon and garnished with onions, raisins, and cashews.
Prep and cooking time: 2.5 hours
Dibis wa Rashi: A tahini and date syrup dip, commonly served alongside flatbread.
Prep and cooking time: 2 min
Khubz: A pita-like flatbread made with whole wheat flour.
Prep and cooking time: 3.5 hours (including rising time)
Gers Ogaily: A fluffy aromatic cake flavoured with sesame, saffron, cardamom, and rose water.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Loomi Tea: Desiccated limes steeped in hot water and sweetened with honey.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
The Shopping List
Most of Eric’s ingredients were readily found at our local supermarket, but a couple had to be hunted for. Date syrup turned up at Bulk Barn, surprisingly. Desiccated limes were sourced from an online bartending supply.
The preparation for Eric’s Kuwaiti dinner began the day before. He called me into the kitchen and presented me with two whole, un-filleted, un-gutted bass.
“Do you want to help?” he asked, with just a touch of hopefulness.
I’ve long been of the opinion that if I’m going to be a pescatarian, I should be willing to really understand how my seafood is prepared, and to do it myself if the situation arises. Well, it arose. Eric and I watched a couple of YouTube videos to get prepared — notably this excellent one — and got to work. I did the first fish. I scaled it using a vegetable peeler (which worked like a charm), then gutted it and removed the fins and head before cutting into the meat and slicing off two (rather thin and ragged) fillets. It was a messy and satisfying business. Eric did the second fish, and (having learned from my mistakes) came away with two nice bass fillets. After that, my involvement in the assignment was over.
The next evening, we sat down to dinner. My first impression was that everything looked beautiful.
We started with a fluffy khubz each, dipped into thick dibis wa rashi. The dip was sweet from the date syrup, earthy from the tahini, and with a bit of sourness from the fresh lemon juice, was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. We both really liked it. It’s the kind of dip you keep eating without realizing it, and before long, I was down to half a khubz.
We tried the rice and fish next, and it was incredible. The spiced rice was divine, topped with caramelized onions, fat raisins, and crunchy cashews. The fish was flaky and flavourful — all our hard work paying off.
The meal concluded with slices of fluffy, saffron-y cake and cups of loomi tea. Eric had to make the tea twice — left too long the first time, the limes leant the water a zing of citrus and then an overwhelming bitterness. We drank it sweetened with a little honey from my beehives.
We both agreed that the meal had been fantastic — we’re finding that so much of the food from the region is — and that there had been a couple of standouts to be considered in the next Wooden Spoon Wanderer showcase dinner.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.